The Big Beehive hike in Lake Louise offers some truly incredible sights. You start first on the hike to the Lake Agnes Teahouse, one of the most iconic Lake Louise hikes. The views of Mt. Whyte and Devils Thumb behind the turquoise waters of Lake Agnes are truly special.
Once you have stopped and enjoyed a treat from the Lake Agnes Teahouse, if you have the time and energy, continue on the Big Beehive trail. You’ll enjoy some of the most incredible scenery by hiking the short, but sometimes steep, Big Beehive trail. Read on to discover why we feel the Big Beehive Trail is not only one of the best hikes in Lake Louise, but also one of the best hikes in Banff National Park.
What You’ll Find in This Article on Big Beehive Hike at Lake Louise:
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Big Beehive Hike – Quick Details
Trailhead: Lake Agnes trailhead
Distance: 10 km out and back
Elevation: 520 m elevation gain
Big Beehive Hike Highlights
As you begin your hike along the shores of Lake Louise, take a moment to admire the incredible Victoria Glacier at the far end of Lake Louise. Then, look up and to the right where you’ll get your first view of the Big Beehive. This is your destination.
To reach the Big Beehive trail, you first hike to Lake Agnes. The hiking trail to Lake Agnes begins with a moderate incline and remains this way throughout the entirety of this Lake Louise tea house hike.
As you gain more altitude the glimpses of Lake Louise become less prominent, but Fairview mountain begins to loom large overhead on the left.
The trail will also become a little more rugged, with more roots and rocks to manage. Huge boulders add visual interest to the trail as you gain more elevation. Bright red paintbrush flowers and large wild roses (Alberta’s provincial flower) grow in sunny patches along the side of the hiking trail in summer.
You’ll arrive at Mirror Lake after 2.9 km of hiking. Mirror Lake is a small mountain lake in front of the majestic Big Beehive.
The final leg of the hike to Lake Agnes is short, with several switchbacks. It’s a little steeper but still manageable.
Along this stretch of the trail to the Lake Agnes Teahouse, you’ll be able to see beyond the nearby mountain valley to the main Bow Valley beyond.
Shortly after passing the horse stable, the trail leads to the edge of the waterfall. This is an incredibly beautiful spot and a rare opportunity to stand near a beautiful Banff waterfall. Be very careful, as the area to stand is small and the drop down beyond the waterfall is significant.
Once you’ve had your fill of waterfall pictures, your final task is to climb 57 stairs. At the top, you’ll be greeted by the Lake Agnes Tea House, and the iconic Lake Agnes just beyond
The Big Beehive trailhead is found just past the Lake Agnes Teahouse by the sign for their toilets. The toilets are up and to the right, while the Big Beehive trail continues straight ahead along the northern shores of Lake Agnes.
The beginning of the Big Beehive hike is a single file track through the bottom of a rock slide. As you’d expect, there are lots of rocks and roots on the trail, but at least it’s level.
As you walk along the shores of Lake Agnes, the views of Mt. Whyte (2,983 m) and Mt. Niblock (2,976 m) straight ahead are awe-inspiring. As mesmerizing as that view is, be sure to look to your left, as the Big Beehive is the large rock hill directly across the water.
As with most rock piles in Banff National Park, you’ll be sure to hear the telltale “eeeeeep” sound of a pika as you pass through. If you have the time, stop and try to spot one.
Pikas look like tiny little rabbits with small round ears. They are the size of a mango and love to sit on the top of rocks. Trust me, it’s worth the effort to see one. We were lucky enough to have a cute little pika sitting on a trail-side rock on our most recent visit!
About halfway down the shores of Lake Agnes, you’ll pass the first of many larch trees along the hike. If you are lucky enough to hike Big Beehive in September, it’s a very nice larch hike in Lake Louise (and a great alternative if you can’t get to Moraine Lake to hike Larch Valley).
At the 0.6 km mark of the Big Beehive hike, you’ll cross a stream at the back of Lake Agnes over a bridge of large rocks. You can hear the sounds of the rushing water as it rushes below your feet.
After the stream, the trail starts to climb up through a rockslide below Devil’s Thumb. It doesn’t take long for the elevated views of Lake Agnes and the teahouse to become spectacular. It’s amazing how much better the colour of the water becomes the higher you go.
The trail to the top of the Big Beehive massif leads you through a series of eight switchbacks up a rocky mountain slope. The trail up the switchbacks is steep and steady but is rarely too challenging.
The most challenging part is to keep your eyes on the trail as the views of Devil’s Thumb overhead are incredible. The switchback trail is very narrow in spots, so all kidding aside, watch your step.
The switchbacks end at the 1.3 km mark of the Big Beehive trail. This is an important trail junction with three hiking trails leaving from here (plus the one back the way you came). Go right to climb the Devil’s Thumb, go straight to continue on to the Plain of Six Glaciers trail (another of our favourite Lake Louise hikes), or turn left to continue along the Big Beehive hike.
The last stretch of the Big Beehive hike is pretty flat, with mostly flat large rocks to walk over and around. As you walk through the large stand of larch trees atop Big Beehive, take a moment to enjoy the brilliant turquoise waters of Lake Louise below. From this vantage point, you can see the entire length of this iconic Banff lake.
In addition to the views of Lake Louise at this incredible Banff viewpoint, you’ll be treated to outstanding vistas of the mountains behind the lake, including Fairview Mountain (2,744 m), Haddo Peak (3,070 m), Mount Aberdeen (3,152 m) and Mount Lefroy (3,423 m).
You’ll reach the end of the Big Beehive hike at the 1.7 km mark of your hike. A covered wooden shelter (built in 1916 by the CPR) sits on the spot.
From this spot at the end of the Big Beehive hike, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best views in Banff National Park. The 360-degree views are simply incredible.
Behind you are the mountains you’ve been looking at around Lake Agnes, including My. Whyte, My. Niblock and Devil’s Thumb.
To your right, you can see Lake Louise below with Fairview Mountain standing guard behind.
In front, you’ll see Chateau Lake Louise sitting on the shores of the lake, the Lake Louise ski hill and an enormous number of mountain peaks across the Bow Valley.
And finally, to your left, you can see Mt. St. Piran (2,649 m) with Cataract Peak (3,333 m) off in the distance. If you stand on the bench in the gazebo, you can also see Lake Agnes below.
The Big Beehive hike is an out-and-back, so you’ll head back to the Lake Agnes Teahouse the same way.
From Lake Agnes, most people return to Lake Louise the exact same way they came, and there’s nothing wrong with this approach. There is an opportunity to take an alternate trail down to Mirror Lake from Lake Agnes, which we highly recommend.
The Lake Agnes loop trail begins near the Lake Agnes waterfall (after you’ve crossed the little bridge). You’ll find a much longer set of stairs leading down on the opposite side of the waterfall from which you came.
One of the many benefits of this alternate trail down from Lake Agnes is excellent views of the towering waterfall.
Not long after the stairs end, look up on the right and you’ll see you are immediately below the summit of the Big Beehive. It’s a pretty incredible sight, considering you were just up there!
This trail from Lake Agnes to Mirror Lake is through a beautiful, lush forest likely from the humidity of the nearby waterfall. It’s much less busy than the main trail.
As you pass the Big Beehive cliff, the mountain views really open up in front of you. You’ll be standing in a boulder field enjoying a stunning vista of Mt Aberdeen, Fairview Mountain and Hadoo Peak. You can also see Mirror Lake through the trees below as well as the massive Big Beehive cliff overhead.
A few hundred meters beyond the boulder field, yet another beautiful mountaintop glacier comes into view. The views up here are truly breathtaking.
After 5.1 km of hiking, Mirror Lake appears through the trees on your left. On a sunny day you can really appreciate turquoise color from this vantage point.
Beyond Mirror Lake you’ll be back on the main Lake Agnes trail heading back to the Chateau Lake Louise.
Big Beehive Trailhead
To reach the Big Beehive trailhead, you must first hike to Lake Agnes.
As you walk from the Lake Louise parking lot, past the popular lakefront photo ops with Lake Louise brilliantly blue in the background, you’ll find the Lake Agnes trailhead just past the Chateau Lake Louise hotel – one of the best hotels in Lake Louise. (Find out why in our review of the Fairmont Lake Louise hotel).
The Big Beehive trailhead is found just past the Lake Agnes Teahouse near the toilet sign. The toilets are up and to the right, while the Big Beehive hike continues straight ahead along the northern shores of Lake Agnes.
The Lake Louise parking lot is 46 minutes from Banff and just over 2 hours from Calgary. Take the TransCanada Highway 1 west, then exit toward Lake Louise. Turn left towards the village of Lake Louise then continue on Lake Louise Drive until you reach the parking lot.
The Lake Louise parking lot will fill up fast in the summer. If you are visiting Banff National Park in the summer, we recommend that you arrive before 9 am even on a weekday. Note, that visitors must pay for Lake Louise parking between June to mid-October.
Big Beehive Hike Stats
How Long is the Lake Louise Big Beehive Hike?
While Parks Canada lists the Big Beehive trail as 5.0 km one-way for a total of 10 km round-trip, we tracked the round-trip distance closer to 11.4 km (one-way distance of 5.7 km) from the Lake Agnes trailhead to the top of the Big Beehive.
How Hard is the Big Beehive Trail?
Due to the length and incline, we rate the Banff Big Beehive hike as “moderate”.
At 11.4 km and 520 elevation gain, the Big Beehive trail is a moderate Lake Louise hike. The best part is you can take a break at the Lake Agnes Teahouse before continuing up to the Big Beehive.
It is a consistent climb the entire way up, so if you are a beginner hiker or don’t hike frequently then this will probably feel like a difficult hike. If you are up for the challenge, the trail is well groomed and there are plenty of spots to take a break along the way (except on the switchback section that climbs up to the Big Beehive, as this is quite narrow).
How Long Does the Big Beehive Hike Take?
It should take a typical adult 3-4 hours to hike to the Big Beehive and back. We did this hike in late October and it took us 1.5 hours to get to the top of the Big Beehive.
We didn’t head straight back down, but instead went up the Little Beehive trail. Hiking to Lake Agnes, Big Beehive and Little Beehive took us a total of 3 hours and 40 minutes including stopping for pictures.
Big Beehive Trail Map
The Lake Agnes trail to the Big Beehive is easy to follow and is well marked. If you are feeling uncertain, you can use the Alltrails app while hiking to the Big Beehive, but the trail is popular enough that you’ll have plenty of people to follow.
To find the Big Beehive trail map in Alltrails, simply search for “The Big Beehive”. Be sure to download your hiking maps prior to leaving.
Enjoy map downloads and many more premium features with a 7-day free trial of AllTrails+!
A paper map isn’t required for this Lake Louise hike, but if you are like me and love looking at topographic hiking maps, we highly recommend Gem Trek hiking maps. We own the entire set of these excellent Banff and Kananaskis hiking maps.
I love looking at my Gem Trek hiking maps; they are exceptional 3D topographic maps which give an excellent overview of the mountains and hiking trails in the area. It really helps you understand how the Big Beehive trail fits into the Lake Louise area.
The Lake Agnes and Big Beehive trail maps are found in the “Lake Louise & Yoho” Gem Trek map.
Hiking the Big Beehive Trail with Kids
If you are visiting Banff with kids, we only recommend this hike for kids who are frequent hikers and are able to manage this distance and elevation. Keep in mind that the switchbacks leading from the end of Lake Agnes to the top of the Big Beehive are narrow and there won’t be a lot of opportunities to them to stop for a break.
Given our kids had hiked the Sentinel Pass trail the previous year, we decided to hike the Big Beehive trail with them (now aged 9 and 7) during the larch season this year. They not only were able to hike to the top of the Big Beehive without issue, we also took the long way down to the Plain of Six Glaciers trail.
Don’t miss these other best Banff day-hikes with kids.
Where to Stop for Lunch or a Break
The obvious place to stop for lunch on the Big Beehive trail is at the Lake Agnes Tea House. You can find the Lake Agnes Tea House menu here. While some may find the Lake Agnes tea house prices to be high, it’s important to remember that all supplies need to be carried up to the tea house.
If you are traveling to Banff on a budget, there are plenty of places to sit and enjoy a packed lunch at one of the most scenic places in Banff. We often pack a lunch when hiking with kids, so we can stop when we need to. Even on a very busy day at this Lake Louise tea house, we had no issue finding rocks along the lake to stop and enjoy our lunch.
An other alternative is to wait until you reach the wooden structure at the Big Beehive Lookout. You’ll find plenty of benches to stop and have lunch.
Big Beehive Hiking Safety
Aside from the usual rocks and roots, there are relatively few hiking hazards along the Big Beehive hiking trail. The hiking trail is well maintained and easy to follow up all the way to Big Beehive Lookout.
That being said, it’s still important to educate yourself on Bear Safety in Banff National Park. This should entail carrying bear spray, hiking in a group and making plenty of noise on the way up.
Cougars also live in Banff National Park. Learn more about Cougar Safety in Banff National Park.
Chances of a dangerous wildlife encounter in Banff are very low, but you never know what will happen with Banff wildlife, so be prepared.
We recommend you check the Big Beehive trail report under the Lake Louise Area section for the Big Beehive trail conditions, wildlife warnings and possible closures before you head out.
Big Beehive Trail Logistics
Plan to pack plenty of water and snacks for this hike. Fill your hydration packs before you leave. Though you always have the option of buying lunch or a snack at the tea house.
You won’t get cell service for the entirety of your hike, so don’t count on it for your safety.
What to Bring for Hiking the Big Beehive Trail
Check out our list of Banff hiking essentials with the hiking gear and clothing we recommend to get the most enjoyment out of your hike, regardless of the variable Banff weather and trail conditions.
Here are the must-haves for the Lake Louise Big Beehive hike:
- Bear spray is a must. Canisters are available to buy or rent at many locations in Canmore and Banff. Carry your bear spray in an easily accessible location.
- Water – the Big Beehive trail is a consistent uphill climb and on a hot summer day you’ll want to ensure you have enough water. A hydration pack is an effective and eco-conscious way to bring enough water for a hard hike.
- Bring several layers of clothing with you. The weather can be quite variable hiking in Banff National Park, no matter the season. For hiking in Banff, we typically wear convertible hiking pants, T-shirts, a fleece top and rain jackets. Bring a daybag as you can expect to put on and take off layers all day.
- We don’t use trekking poles, but they can help with balance and to take pressure off knees on the descent.
Big Beehive Footwear Recommendation
Due to the consistent climbing, rocks and roots, we recommend a good pair of hiking shoes or hiking boots.
Hiking the Beehive Circuit Trail
If you only have one day to see the best Lake Louise hikes, there are connector trails along these Lake Louise hiking trails to complete a Beehive Circuit.
Starting up the Lake Agnes trail, shortly after Mirror Lake, there’s a junction that’s unmarked that will turn to the right and head up the Little Beehive. From there, you’ll come down the main Little Beehive trail to Lake Agnes.
Continue the Beehive Circuit by passing the Lake Agnes Tea House towards the Big Beehive trail. Once you’ve been to the Big Beehive Lookout, head back the way you came. Instead of turning right to go back to Lake Agnes, go left and follow the Beehive trail to the Lake Louise Highline Trail. A left on the Lake Louise Highline trail will take you back to Mirror Lake, where you can connect to the Lake Agnes trail back to the Lake Louise lakeshore.
This should be a total distance of about 13 km and 900 m elevation gain. The Alltrails description of the Beehive Circuit doesn’t do the out-and-back to the Big Beehive Lookout. Don’t miss this part. It’s only another 1 km and this is where you’ll get the BEST views!
If you really want to see it all, you could add on the Plain of Six Glaciers hike to this circuit. So instead of making a left on the Lake Louise Highline trail to Mirror Lake, turn right to the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse (and past for incredible views).
On the return from the Plain of Six Glaciers, don’t take the Highline trail back, but stay on the Plain of Six Glaciers to finish the hike on the Lake Louise Lakeshore trail.
This Plain of Six Glaciers and the Beehive hike on Alltrails has a map of exactly this. It’s 20 km round-trip and 1,140 m elevation gain. It would be an epic day of Lake Louise hiking but you’ll get to see it all!
Hiking Big Beehive in Fall
In September, everyone goes crazy for the best larch tree hikes around Lake Louise, such as the Larch Valley Trail.
If you’d like to avoid the madness of Moraine Lake and Larch Valley, a great alternative is to see the golden larch trees along the Big Beehive trail. Given the proximity of Lake Louise to Moraine Lake, you can still expect these trails to be busy hiking in fall in Banff.
Once the final golden larch tree needle has fallen, the Banff hiking trails get a lot quieter. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad time to hike – in fact Banff in October can be a wonderful time to hike, depending on the weather conditions in that given year (which are extremely variable).
Hiking to Lake Agnes and the Big Beehive in October, you’ll find there is often snow on the mountaintops, which makes them especially beautiful. Lake Agnes may or may not be frozen over at this time.
When hiking in Banff in October, it’s critical to be prepared for varying conditions. We recommend dressing in layers and always having a pair of microspikes in your bag. When we last hiked the Big Beehive trail in October, there was a good layer of ice on the hiking trail about halfway up.
We had our microspikes on and had no traction issues at all. 90% of the hikers on the Big Beehive trail were really struggling and nearly everyone stopped us to ask about our microspikes. If you intend to do a lot of fall or winter hiking in Banff, microspikes are a great investment!
If incredible views are what you’re after, you’ll find them on the Big Beehive hike in Lake Louise!
Other Things do do in Lake Louise
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Celine Brewer, a local Canmore resident, is the co-owner of Travel Banff Canada. She has a passion for being out in the mountains any time of year. In the summer, you'll often find her hiking or mountain biking. In the winter, she enjoys cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and winter hiking the most.
As much as she loves the mountains, she also loves travel! When she's not playing outdoors at home, she's either traveling the world with her husband and two kids or working on their other two travel sites: Family Can Travel and Baby Can Travel.